Locating known sex offenders in your city, town or state isn’t difficult, but “known” is the pivotal word. Convicted offenders are required to register with their states so citizens may know where they’re living, but if they’re never caught, their names won’t appear on these lists. Some offenders break the law and don’t register so you won’t be able to find them until the law catches up with them. Their names are usually only retained for about 10 years so you may not be able to find someone beyond this time if he’s had no subsequent convictions.
The National Sex Offender Public Website
The Department of Justice offers the National Sex Offender Public Website, which provides links to sex offender registries for all 50 states, as well as tribal governments and U.S. territories. This shouldn’t be confused with the National Sex Offender Registry, which is only available to law enforcement. The NSOPW allows the public to search for offenders so that they can learn where they live, work or attend school.
When you access the NSOPW site, you must agree to the conditions of using it, and then you can fill out a search form and submit it. If you suspect a sex offender is living in your area and you know who he is, you can look for his name in the national database or you can link to the registry of the state where you think he’s living. If you don’t know his name, you can search by address to find out if he’s living at a certain location. You can search by town, city, county or zip code. One drawback is that the NSOPW data depends on individual states and jurisdictions supplying their information. If your state’s website and data collection process aren’t particularly sophisticated, the information you’ll find on the federal website won’t be any different. The advantage of using the NSOPW is that if you have the name of an offender you’re concerned about, you can search across all states, tribes and territories for him.
Most states’ rules for registering and reporting are similar, although there may be some minor differences. Available records typically include the offender’s name, a description of his appearance -- if not a photo -- and his date of birth. As of January 2013, federal law prohibits access to offenders’ electronic contact information, such as email addresses and social network screen names.
Most states also have notification laws, so even if you don’t take the initiative in tracking down a known sex offender in your area, you might learn of him anyway under certain circumstances. Some states allow you to sign up for email notifications if there are any changes in their registry databases. In some areas, local law enforcement is obligated to warn individuals and institutions that a known sex offender has moved into their neighborhood. These usually include the offender’s victims, schools and youth groups, but some police departments will notify whole neighborhoods. You don’t have to rely on websites and notifications -- you can always go directly to your local police department and inquire.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.